Elmer Jamieson, Born to be on Horseback


Photo courtesy Suddaby family archives

Legendary cowboy Elmer Jamieson entered life’s big arena in 1903, born to Esther and Dr. George Jamieson at Prescott, Ont.

His father was a veterinarian who came to Calgary in 1905, hired by the government to inspect livestock imported from the United States. Three years later, he was appointed Livestock Inspector for southwestern Saskatchewan, so he filed for a homestead and moved his family west from Ontario. In 1910, the veterinarian started his own business and took a new homestead north of Maple Creek where he ran his practice and raised Standardbred horses. Sadly, Dr. Jamieson passed away suddenly in 1912.

Esther and her three children carried on with the homestead as best they could, but after 15 years she moved to Ranfurly, Alta. By then Elmer, now a grown man, had honed his cowboy skills on ranches and roundups in the Cypress Hills. He also competed as a saddle bronc rider in regional rodeos.

In 1924, he was one of 17 Canadian cowboys invited to compete at the world’s first international rodeo held in England. The rodeo served as the grand opening for London’s Wembley Stadium, built as the centrepiece of the British Empire Exhibition.

Most of the Canadian cowboys travelled to New York to join the American contestants for their trans-Atlantic voyage, but Elmer and four others rode the rails to Montreal as they were engaged to travel with and care for the 150 steers that were shipped to the rodeo on a different vessel. It could be argued that Elmer opened Wembley — he was the first cowboy to burst from the chutes, riding a bronc named Tea Cup. After returning from England, he continued to work on ranches and compete in rodeos. He won the saddle he would ride for the rest of his life at the 1927 Maple Creek Rodeo. As well, he competed in the 1929 Calgary Stampede.

In time, the young cowboy migrated West and found his true calling in the mountains. During the ’30s, he guided in the Banff and Lake Louise area. In 1936, he supervised the transportation by pack horse of everything required for the construction of the first cabin at today’s Sunshine Village. Choosing only the most sure-footed horses and summoning all of his packing savvy, he oversaw the transportation of one-quarter mile of pipe, all of the building materials and furniture — including the kitchen range.

Elmer married Viola Massey in 1938 and established their home in Bragg Creek. Son George was born in 1939 and daughter Eleanor in 1940. Shortly after George’s birth, Viola’s sister, then staying with them, became trapped by a prairie fire. Stories in the Calgary Herald told of Elmer’s heroic ride to find and rescue his sister-in-law. Tragically, she later died in hospital as a result of the blaze and Elmer suffered burns to his face that contributed to his ruddy complexion.

Photo courtesy Suddaby family archives

On another occasion, he was called upon to track down and do away with the grizzly bear that mauled the famous parks and wildlife photographer Nick Morant and his Swiss guide. Morant spent close to a year in the hospital and the guide, while at work a year later, died from a blood clot which was attributed to the attack. The grizzly, once dispatched, was mounted and displayed in Ottawa for decades.

In 1942, Elmer joined the Warden Service at Yoho National Park and moved the family to the isolated Wapta Lake warden’s station. Viola taught their children correspondence classes for a spell, but in 1947 the Jamiesons moved to a farm near Viking, Alta., so the youngsters could attend school. During the ’50s, Elmer returned to the mountains around Lake Louise and Bow Lake to guide hunters in summer and fall. With their children’s education complete, in 1959 Elmer and Viola relocated to Banff where he rejoined the Warden Service until his 1969 retirement. Not one to sit around, Elmer then packed and guided commercially well into his senior years.

While on a trip to England more than half a century after the Wembley Stadium opening, Elmer was able to show Viola his photograph hanging in the foyer of the grand old sports complex. Stadium officials were so enthralled with their visitors that they issued them and their companions complimentary tickets and gave the group a tour befitting royalty.

Elmer Jamieson rode over the Great Divide in 1989 and now lies in Old Banff Cemetery. Emblazoned on his tombstone is a saddle horse and a pack horse. His epitaph reads simply: “Finding New Trails”